Liberation through Intimacy

Emily Esfahani Smith (2013) describes the shortcomings of the pursuit of happiness in The Atlantic

"Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment...While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting...Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future."

It's an important distinction and yet the pursuit of meaning is not without its time-related trap.

Moods change, but feeling that one's life has meaning also changes. It's easy to reinforce the habit of waiting for states or conditions to appear in the future.     

The pursuit of feeling at home in one's life, however, is about eroding the tendency to discount the imperfect now while holding out for a better later. It is cultivated by noticing and accepting sensory perceptions for a few seconds or minutes at a time

Transcendence isn't an escape plan, but an engagement strategy: liberation through intimacy. Transcending the self and the world begins with deeply accepting the self and the world. It grows naturally out of countless direct experiences of life as it is being lived and an intimate familiarity with how its composition constantly fluctuates.

Happiness, fear, meaning, uncertainty, relaxation, boredom, and tension are all just fodder for the ongoing, messy exploration of what it feels like to be alive. Over time, our lives gradually become more hospitable. What endures is a complicated, flexible, dynamic home that is able to accommodate a flow of moods, meaning, and uncertainty rather than being defined by them. 


See also: 

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Garbinsky, E. N. (January 01, 2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8, 6, 505-516. (link)

Smith, E. E. (2013, January 9) There's more to life than being happy. The Atlantic. (link)

Something Much Larger than Just Trying to Be Happy (David Whyte)

The Power of Negative Thinking (Oliver Burkeman)